Exiting KL Sentral station and turning left along Jalan Tun Sambanthan will take you away from the hubbub of Brickfields and towards the warm bosom of Restoran Visalatchi’s. Specialising in the Chettinad cuisine of southern India, it operates a canteen-style service that revolves around banana leaf rice and curry. The tables are long and communal, the acoustics underlaid by the gentle warble of Tamil, and the servers (of which there are dozens) swarm around, dolloping bits of this and that on your leaf. All you have to cope with is the difficult job of sitting and eating.
It is in this respect that a trip to Restoran Visalatchi’s is a lot like going home. I say this not in suggestion of any culinary similitude (quite the opposite in fact), but because of the maternalistic desire to feed, feed, and feed again. Perhaps it was because I was alone, or a lone white face amongst my dining compadres, but the matronly manageress insisted on heaping my banana leaf with ladle upon ladle of rice and curry. Feelings of hunger soon morphed into that of pleasure which, after the third scoop (of everything), degenerated into the fuzzy bloatedness of a stomach ready to burst. It was only after holding up my hands in defeat that she smiled, and allowed me to pay.
As mentioned, I ate a vegetarian version of the banana leaf rice set (MYR 8.50 for everything in the picture, plus (forced) seconds, and thirds…). The dhal blanketing the rice was beautifully aromatic, and turned out to be one of the best parts of the whole meal. Also delicious was the shredded cabbage and coconut, which contained a sprinkling of fennel seeds that exploded with bittersweet piquantness when chewed. The aloo channa curry was thickly spiced but a little overdone, whilst the deep fried gobi pakora had a pleasing crunch but the flavours were quite muted.
Interestingly, I learnt after leaving Restoran Visalatchi’s (stumbling, clutching my stomach in a state of gastronomic insobriety) that when eating banana leaf rice, it is good etiquette to fold the leaf towards you (along the midrib) to show your appreciation of the meal. Perhaps if I had quickly done this after serving number 2, I could have saved my digestive system a lot of work. Next time.
If home-style eating is what you’re after in Kuala Lumpur, then Restoran Visalatchi’s is where it can be found. Despite the enforced gluttony, I found the whole experience to be tremendously enjoyable and personable. Indeed, eating banana leaf rice is always something of an exotic novelty for those of us who grew up in more temperate climes, and my stomach and I eagerly await our next fill.
Just don’t forget to fold the leaf.
Restoran Visalatchi’s Food & Catering
18 Jalan Scott, off Jalan Sambathan, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur
+60 3 2274 4755
Open 07:30-22:45 daily